Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

APRIL 22, 1998
Vol. 114, No. 205


Road Rage
Attitude toward world is driving each driver
Aesthetic Realism teaches the danger of contempt



I was affected to read online in The Sun Herald the article by Vivian Austin, "Drivers need to soothe their anger before hitting the road," in which she reports on the increasing "road rage" in our country. She quotes Joe Gazzo of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol describing what happens on the interstate: 

(People) yell at each other, bump each other's cars, throw things out the window at another vehicle; they display a gun.  While the consequences of this anger which includes many of us who consider ourselves nice people is always unfortunate, it is also deadly. 

 It was alarming to read that deaths from traffic accidents are on the rise in America. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Two-thirds of the deaths were related to aggressive drivers who weaved through traffic, tailgated and caused other havoc on the road." 

While I hope the public service announcements of the AAA encourage drivers to have more courtesy, men and women need to understand the reason for the anger on our highways so that something will really change. 

Years ago, after getting my driver's license, I remember feeling powerful as I drove my father's car, arrogantly cutting in and out of traffic, impatiently stepping on the gas to leave those "slow" people in the dust. I am sure this describes how many drivers feel. But the thrill I was having was dangerous; it was the thrill of contempt. 

Eli Siegel, poet, historian, and the founder of Aesthetic Realism, defined contempt as "a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not (one)self." Contempt, Siegel showed, is the most hurtful thing in us, the cause of all unkindness and, on a large scale, is the cause of racism and of war. 

Every person has an attitude toward the whole world that is with us in every situation. As we sit across the breakfast table from a spouse, stand in a grocery checkout line or drive a car we are either trying to know and respect people and things or we are having contempt. 

From "The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known," words by Ellen Reiss can literally save lives: 

We need to know, when we get into the driver's seat, that we have already had a tendency to feel this world itself is something we should drive, and to be angry we haven't been able to run and manage it to suit us. As car doors are opened and engines are turned on, millions of people, including well-behaved people, feel deeply, "Now some power is in my hands. This world that confuses me and seems so often to thwart and stop me, I can literally ride over now. ... I'm conquering the world, I've beaten it out.". . .    On highways and city streets, drivers are cutting off other drivers and yelling things at someone which they would not think of saying if they saw that person in their office or even in a store. . . . This is because other drivers, pedestrians, traffic lights, speed limits, all stand for the world, which a person, during the nondriving hours, does not like; which he does not see as worthy of his thought, which he feels should give him his way and which so often does not. 
. . .    The only way to stop the bad temper on American roads and the thousands of terrible accidents is for people to like the world.
To like the world, to want to know and see all the meaning and value in it this, Aesthetic Realism explains, is what we were born for! 

Reiss, in sentences I love, describes the experience of driving with respect for the world: 

The feeling that there is a deep friendliness between themselves and earth as they travel upon it; the feeling that a structure an automobile made by other people is assisting themselves, adding to themselves; that they are experiencing reality as rest and motion at the same time and this oneness of rest and motion seems beautiful . . . . I want people to know, in Biloxi and in cities throughout our great country, the education that Aesthetic Realism is education that is comprehensive, scientific and kind. When this happens, people will be happier, and an important result will be that our roads will definitely be safer! 

Lynette Abel lives in New York City and is an Aesthetic Realism associate. Aesthetic Realism is taught at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation, 141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-777-4490.

Art and Life Discussion
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Lynette Abel